Sunday, April 13, 2008


Back in the day, when I was bleeding Hoya blue, I took a playwrighting class taught by the legendary Donn B. Murphy*.

Anyhoo, he taught me many things about writing, and three of them really resonated:

1) Anything -- a play, a novel, a short story, a screenplay, a comic book -- should be able to be summarized in one sentence. That's not to say that plots can't be complicated, but if you can't express the gist of it in one sentence, then the plot is probably too complicated (or the way you are thinking about it is too complicated).

2) An audience automatically feels warmly toward a character who gives a gift. Well, okay, if the gift is a head in a box or something like that, the character might not get a lotta love. But you get the idea.

3) SPECTACLE. Donn B. seem to be all kinds of tired of talkity-talk-talk with no spectacle in the theater. He said that you don't need a July 4th's worth of fireworks or anything like that, but you do need a moment that's bigger than the normal humdrum of life. His emphasis of this point could have been a result of his having taught college students for decades, whom I have to imagine wrote incessantly about "unique" experiences, like being dumped or being away from home for the first time. Ugh. These wunderkinds probably set all of their plays in waiting rooms or dorms, too.

But anyway, that last one is all kinds of true, and BOY HOWDY did Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) deliver on the spectacle in the Folger's (now closed) run of "MacBeth**." Floating knives, streaks of blood manifesting on Lady MacBeth, people disappearing and reappearing in (seemingly) plain view, blood gushing from neck wounds, well, YOWZA. Call me a rube for not appreciating the lyrical stylings of Shakespeare by itself, but all of these sleights-of-hand and redirections really amped up the performance. The actors were stellar, and not overshadowed by the trickery. So now, I want to see a bunch of other plays in the Shakespeare catalog get Tellerfied...The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet...all are ripe for the glamours, I think.

*If you do not know Donn B., trust, he is legendary. In his late seventies, he would careen around the streets of Georgetown on a Hog. His partner is always -- and only -- referred to as "The Colonel." Another is that he threatened to castrate Super Ninja if Super Ninja did not return the gong (that's right -- gong) that he was borrowing for his theater troupe's production of Camino Real.

**Since I didn't refer to it as the Scottish play, I need spin around in a counter-clockwise circle or something, right?

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